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Met Office: 2023 Temperatures

Volume 835: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what additional measures they are planning in response to the news that the Met Office believes that 2023 was the second hottest year on record.

My Lords, adapting to our changing climate is vital to strengthen our national security, provide resilience in food production and protect the economy from higher costs in the future. In July last year, we published the third national adaptation programme, NAP3, which set out our ambitious programme of action for the five years to 2028. This marked a step change in the Government’s approach to climate change adaptation to address the climate crisis.

Those are fine words, but we have to keep acting fast. I am sure the Government know that there have been recent discussions about developing a new category of hurricanes because of their increasing severity. That means that we will see more encroachment of coastlines, and that we ought to start worrying about flooding here in Britain and the Thames Barrier. In view of all those things, what are the Government’s plans for acting a little faster and sitting less on their hands?

As I said, NAP3 marks a step change in the Government’s work on climate adaptation, moving from planning to decisive action and delivery over the next five years. A key element of NAP3 is a much greater focus on monitoring, evaluation and learning than we have ever had before. Government departments will monitor the success of their actions throughout the programme, which will allow us to continually increase ambition in areas where risk reduction is insufficient.

My Lords, there were 44,000 wildfires last year, an increase of 72% on the previous year. In the words of the Fire Brigades Union, the UK is “woefully unprepared” for the impact of climate change on wildfires. Does the Minister support the Fire Brigades Union’s call for a national wildfire strategy? What investments are being made in people, better equipment and training to fight against the increased risks of wildfires?

I thank the noble Earl for his question; it is extremely relevant in the current climate crisis. Wildfire represents a serious threat to large parts of the UK—not just England but the whole of the UK—and the Government are extremely supportive of any measures to address the issue. I will come back to him in writing on his specific question.

Does my noble friend the Minister accept that, if heather is allowed to grow out and become woody and large, we will have more wildfires destroying peat and so forth? The answer is to regularly burn heather. What plans does my noble friend have for this?

Heather burning is quite a niche area, but I know a little about it. I am conscious that there is a balance between mitigation and adaptation, and heather burning fits neatly into that space. The science is developing in this area, and at the moment it is a little ambiguous and unclear on precisely what we should do. We should allow ourselves a little more time and conduct a little more science, and use that evidence to lead us down the appropriate route.

My Lords, the meeting of the All-Party Group for Africa last night was addressed by the Africa Minister, the right honourable Andrew Mitchell MP. He described the almost catastrophic drought that is likely to affect the people of the Horn of Africa, where there are currently 20 million people facing food insecurity. This is the worst drought in 40 years. Can the Minister tell the House how we are responding to that crisis? There are shrivelled crops, starving livestock, chronic hunger and widespread water insecurity, and 8 million animals, including livestock, died over the course of the last year. If he cannot give the answer now, can he agree to place a letter in the Library of your Lordships’ House setting out the Government’s response?

This is a heartbreaking story and situation that is causing a lot of pain and suffering. The Government’s international leadership on climate change has been demonstrated over the last few years in a consistent way. We continue to provide that leadership. I do not have the specific answers to the noble Lord’s question here and now, but I will endeavour to write to him very shortly to lay out the Government’s position.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how the Government will square the circle of announcing their stated ambition on tackling climate change, while at the same time awarding new licences for oil and gas extraction and approving a new coal mine?

The noble Baroness raises an interesting question. This demonstrates very clearly the transition that we are going through, from fossil fuels to renewable energy. She will know that the Government have a clear policy of moving to renewable energy. It is a transition, during which we will still need oil and—I hope to a much lesser extent—coal to get us from A to Z. I appreciate that it is a complex area, but that is the Government’s position.

My Lords, who is the Minister responsible for the Met Office? I am sorry to say that it used to be me.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, with the changes in weather patterns—intense heat followed by very short, sharp but intense showers—surface water has been identified as an increasing problem since 2007? Will he address the issue of highways authorities not having responsibility for surface water run off? This is one of the greatest causes of pollution in our rivers and it needs to be addressed where it joins with combined sewers and enters people’s homes and our rivers.

It would probably be best if I wrote to my noble friend about this. She has raised a range of issues which I do not have time to go into today. I will write to her in due course.

My Lords, rising temperatures obviously go hand in hand with rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The latter is having a particularly serious impact on parts of the Norfolk coast. Can the Minister confirm to the House that a previous policy of managed decline is no longer in place and that we will do all we can to help the communities affected by the impact of such events?

My noble friend will be aware that the Government have committed north of £5 billion for flooding and coastal erosion. We are now half way through that programme. I will write to my noble friend specifically about the Norfolk coast.

My Lords, does that Minister agree that, with the need to cut emissions and the growth in the amount of power that our nation requires, there is a real need to speed up the provision of nuclear power to ensure that we have green energy?

My Lords, as the Minister will know, net zero is impossible without decarbonising heating. The clean heat market mechanism is a crucial part of that. Does he recognise its importance? Will he refute media speculation that the Government are considering a U-turn on it? Will he make representations to boiler manufacturers that are unfairly passing these costs on to consumers?

Again, I will write to the right reverend Prelate in due course. I am doing rather a lot of writing today, am I not? This is a broad subject which I am slowly getting my head around.

My Lords, further to the question from the right reverend Prelate, is it not important that everyone realises that passing on the cost to consumers is not unfair—this is what is going to happen? In pursuing our policy, we have to be aware of this cost and phase it in over time. It is completely irresponsible to move ahead of people’s ability to pay.

I entirely agree with my noble friend. The communication on this transition has not been entirely well presented. A transition to a green energy future is going to cost a significant amount of money. I concur with my noble friend’s view on this.